Integrated River Basin Management

April 1, 2001

Integrated river basin development (IRBM) is unquestionably an attractive concept. There are many international resolutions recommending and promoting this concept. Countless national and international meetings have already been held on this subject, and the volume of literature available on this issue is massive. Irrespective of these developments, the fact still remains that whether this attractive concept can be made operational, so as to make existing water management practices significantly more efficient, is still not known. In fact, even though there is considerable agreement within the global water community to move towards integrated water resources management, a serious discussion on what should be integrated has not yet even begun, let alone how these issues be realistically integrated.

The Centre convened a very high-level workshop in Mexico City, to analyse the status of integrated river basin management in Latin America, with the support of International Water Resources Association (IWRA), the British Council and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI). The objectives were to critically analyse to what extent integrated river basin management concept is being applied to in the major Latin American countries, and what have been the results. Participation to the workshop was by invitation only, and was restricted to 25 senior policy makers and experts on the Latin American river basin management. The participants represented the federal and state overnments, private sectors, universities, research institutions and NGOs from different Latin American countries, as well as some national and international organizations like the British Council, International Water Management Institute, Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL) of the United Nations, and the Ford Foundation.

It was noted that integrated river basin management, irrespective of the national and international rhetorics, has made limited progress in the region. Integrated planning of river basins should be based on a dynamic methodology which can be adapted not only to specific conditions but also to changing conditions. There should be long-term plans, but with clear short- and medium-term goals. The institutions responsible for river basin management should not be isolated from the other ministries, which in reality has been a most difficult goal to achieve. While conceptualisation of this solution is not difficult, the operationalisation of the concept has proved to be an extremely complicated and difficult task because of various vested interests have to be overcome. For most countries of Latin America, water management is a national priority issue, and thus its efficient planning should simultaneously include water requirements for different economic sectors as well as the impacts of these sectors on the water planning process. These interlinkages again have been difficult to achieve within the current overall political-institutional frameworks.

The papers specially commissioned for this workshop, as well as its findings and conclusions, have now been published as a book, Integrated river basin management in Latin America, Asit K. Biswas and Cecilia Tortajada (Editors), Oxford University Press, 2001. For more information on this book, please see the Publication Section.

The Centre is now considering additional studies on IRBM, both on the applicability of this concept and also some case studies from different regions of the world.